The Importance of Sign Language When Teaching Deaf Children

The Importance of Sign Language When Teaching Deaf Children
Written by Guest Author

Why Administrative Staff at Schools for Deaf Children Need to Know Sign Language

According to The Atlanta Journal, the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf is courting controversy, as the Georgia Department of Education recently replaced a Deaf superintendent with one who could hear.  Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in widespread student protests. Several teachers have also resigned. The Journal further reports that the superintendent doesn’t even have a firm grasp of sign language, while also noting that there are no Deaf people amongst school leadership.

The district also hasn’t hired any People of Color, even though the majority of students at the school are Black or Hispanic — but that’s a separate issue with its own solution.   

To be blunt, if your job involves working with Deaf individuals, whether students or adults, you are not qualified for that job if you are not fluent in sign language. Students that are deaf or hard of hearing already face myriad difficulties in their day-to-day lives. Their education should not be one of them, particularly if they are attending a specialized institution. 

One might assume that the easiest way to address this issue would be to exclusively hire deaf or hard-of-hearing administrators. Unfortunately, this is infeasible from both an ethical and a practical perspective. For one, there simply aren’t enough qualified Deaf individuals to fill every single position.

One will need to hire at least a few hearing individuals out of necessity. With that said, I’d still strongly recommend that districts prioritize the hiring of hearing impaired over hearing individuals. According to The Journal, for instance, the superintendent hired by the Georgia Department of Education was chosen over a Deaf Black woman. 

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One position still remains unfilled.

This is not a problem that will be solved at the hiring stage. Instead, the focus needs to be on breaking down communication barriers and ensuring that no significant decisions are made without a Deaf perspective. This starts with the introduction of classes that teach sign language.

 As the primary mode of communication for many hard of hearing individuals, it’s easy to learn and understand for both the hearing and the hearing impaired. School districts have a few options when it comes to teaching administrators how to sign. These include but are not limited to the following: 

  • Direct staff towards one of the many free online courses that teach sign language.
  • Pay for staff to enroll in one of the paid sign language courses.
  • Incorporate a sign language course into your onboarding process. 
  • Plan a course that involves both students and staff simultaneously.
  • Encourage staff to read articles and hearing-related blogs from reliable sources .

And again, a basic understanding of sign language is not enough for anyone in a leadership role. One must be fluent. And though at first glance this may be unreasonable, it also acts as a filter for any individuals who are not fully committed.

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